By Denise Maguire
BIM isn’t just a fancy 3D CAD model. The latter has been around for quite a while and in most cases represents just the visual aspects of a building.
BIM is much more; it’s about creating a model of the project that actually represents its physical characteristics, its performance, the way it’ll be built and anything else of use to the teams involved in designing, building and operating it.
It’s about moving away from traditional industry practices, of producing multiple and independent paper-based documents (2D drawings, schedules, specifications, bills of quantities and reports), that describe what a building is, how it is to be constructed and operated, towards creating “virtual buildings”. Its also about using technology to improve the workflows, communication and processes, in an industry that is traditionally very fragmented and BIM does this by producing, managing and exchanging information in better ways. BIM is considered by many in the industry as a massive improvement to the way architects, contractors and fabricators have worked up until relatively recently. Clash-free design, consistent drawing sets and second to none visualisations of the building during design, fabrication and erection aren’t even the most impressive facets of BIM, they’re just standard elements of it. Design can be explored, communicated, reviewed and resolved in this virtual 3D environment, before committing expensive labour and material to the real-life project on site. This reduces waste, eliminates abortive re-work and duplication of effort. It also prevents delays, cost overruns, adversarial administration and disputes. By being able to quickly change and analyse multiple iterations of these models, designers can find optimal solutions that will improve the construction, performance and running costs of buildings.
BIM has been termed by some as a “disruptive software”, ie an evolutionary technology that will transform many aspects of the AEC industry. It means firms who employ BIM must re-think how they operate, the processes they use and their methods of production so that they optimise the software. BIM means more intelligent buildings, it means a faster more efficient construction period and it means a cheaper build thanks to faster procurement and greater use of fabricated components. BIM also demands closer forms of collaboration between teams, right from the project planning stage; to give an example, in BIM, information must be added by the party creating the model before the receiving party can see it. An architect might add doors to the design model before the fire strategy is developed. She won’t know the fire rating and so doesn’t include it in the model. When the cost planners receive the model, there won’t be any information on fire rating the doors, which in turn could affect the costs. The benefits of BIM adoption depend on all parties being able to engage and collaborate in a well-informed way and be completely transparent from the off. It might operate through technology but BIM is really all about people and processes. People need to make choices about how they’ll use the technology and they must look and review the way they used to go about doing things.
The benefits are clear but for the adoption of BIM in Ireland to move on, the process needs leadership. DIT lecturer and one of the founding directors of the Construction IT Alliance (CITA), Dr Alan Hore believes it’s difficult for the government to promote BIM and prioritise a sector which was seen as one of the main culprits of the economy’s demise. “We also have many other competing issues in the industry. For example we have a requirement for registration of builders, we have the Construction Contracts Act, we have Building Control Regulations changing. So all these competing issues are preoccupying the various authorities. It’s hard to see how BIM would fit into that.” What we need, says Alan, is patience but also for the industry and various governing bodies to realise that there’s an inevitability about BIM.
“If our closest neighbours are going to mandate BIM, it looks like it’s going to be an option for other European members to mandate it in the EU. There’s an inevitability that Ireland will have to follow.”Enterprise Ireland are pushing the message that if you’re an early adopter of BIM, it will help you win more business.
According to Stephen Hughes, Manager of Construction Services at Enterprise Ireland: “Technology is something that isn’t necessarily part of the sector. I feel though that it is beginning to gain momentum and that it will ultimately permeate across all levels and all stages of the supply chain. It’s important that the public sector recognises the importance that BIM can bring. They should take a strong position, just like they’ve taken in the UK. I think that would be immensely beneficial to our own economy and to our companies who are internationalising that they have that capability.”
Through its regional and Dublin meetings, CITA is also stressing to delegates that employing BIM will make them more competitive and much more attractive to procurement bodies. “Don’t wait until it’s mandated because then it’s too late. People who have been working on BIM for the last five years are going to be in a stronger position to bid for the work ahead of you because they’re already fully upskilled. You can’t just go on a three day training course and suddenly say I’m doing BIM, it’s a steep learning curve but the pay-off is worth it.”
The advantages of employing BIM are currently being felt on the Grangegorman project, a massive undertaking that will see the relocation of Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) and associated facilities to the Dublin 7 site. Due to the significant coordination that would be required at the site, it was decided early on that the project required 3D coordination modelling. Michael Hand is the Chief Executive Officer at Grangegorman Development Agency. “Traditional design has really been about design in the built phase. It doesn’t capture the whole cost issue. The real benefit of BIM is in setting a platform that will manage future running costs. It’s a bigger investment upfront but it gives a new leverage to the birth cert of the building, essentially you get a building with a total management package.”
In terms of BIM, the project is at an early stage. “We only started working here two years ago. Initially we didn’t have a BIM capability but now that those capabilities are coming onto the market, we’re persuaded of the benefits.” Consultations with international campuses in the USA and also in Slovenia have also allowed the GGDA see for themselves the real advantages of embracing BIM.
According to Michael, BIM is now where Autocad was 20 years ago. “The industry now has to move from Autocad to BIM. I think the recession in its own way will actually help; the construction industry will be required by governments and private operators to become more efficient. Also, sustainability requirements for new buildings requires us to look at the whole life costs. Both drivers make BIM a reality going forward.”
Not only does BIM have the capability to increase a firm’s profitability but it also has the potential to revolutionise the industry and create efficiencies right across the board. Paul Brennan, project manager at BAM Contractors: “Site engineers and health and safety officers will be able to spend 60 – 70% of their time on site rather than in the office doing paperwork. Everything can be done on the go now. You can take software to site on a tablet, you can do augmented reality down there. If you have concrete walls up on site, you can turn on your mech & elec model and see where the openings need to be for the services. The possibilities are endless.”
The UK government has mandated that central government projects must achieve Level 2 BIM by 2016. Although no such mandate exists in Ireland, the fact that so many Irish firms do business across the water means there’s a necessity to ensure BIM implementation. According to Ralph Montague, architect and managing partner at ArcDox, it might be mandated in Ireland in time but there are already government projects in Ireland where there is a requirement to use BIM. “BIM is coming into Ireland in a softer way than the UK, which has problems in itself; every project team is making up their own rules. In the UK they’ve developed one standard so there’s one way of doing it. What we’re doing in CITA is encouraging people to pick up the UK standards, there’s no point in reinventing the wheel.”
For the industry to fully embrace BIM, it needs the demand side of the house to “stand up and say we see it as an opportunity to do two things,” says Stephen Hughes, Enterprise Ireland. “First, to save money and also to improve performances of companies. The demand side of the house falls into two categories, public procurement and private sector. It has been adopted by the private sector, it needs to be more prevalent within the public sector.” The financial outlay associated with BIM is one that comes up time and again. This, says Ralph Montague, is a misunderstanding on the part of firms. “I think the lack of adoption actually comes down to lack of understanding on what BIM will do for their business. You have to invest in technology and training and you need to take time to learn something new. People don’t realise BIM will give them enormous productivity gain which will in turn lower their operating costs and increase their potential profits.”
The conversation about BIM must move forward; the time for debating the pros and cons of whether we or not we should embrace BIM is over according to Sean Clarke, director at Arup Ireland. “The industry has made a determined effort and decision to use BIM as the primary method for delivering design and construction. I would like the debate to move on and focus instead on how we maximise the benefits that BIM can bring. Let’s see how we can do it in the best possible way.” Dr Alan Hore agrees and says there needs to be a coming together in the industry of appropriately qualified people to lead the initiative. “We badly need a roadmap for BIM. All the stakeholders, senior figures within government, industry, and academia who know that BIM could do for the industry need to come together and make it happen. Once they do, we will have a much leaner, more efficient sector. We need to look at what the UK has done and learn from that. This could be an opportunity to put Ireland on the map and position us as an innovator and a user of smart technology.”
Change is always a challenge and particularly so for a traditionally conservative sector like construction. Michael Earley, technical architect and software developer at Scott Tallon Walker Architects sees BIM leading to more collaboration between design teams but the old attitude of “but this is how it’s always been done” crops up now and again. “There’s no doubt that the software is very good but changing ingrained work practices is always going to be a challenge and I think the industry is struggling to make that change. Certain companies and individuals are doing it very well but on the whole, I think it’s a transition that will take time.” Michael believes that if we don’t get on board with BIM, it will turn into yet another level of bureaucracy that must be navigated. On top of that, “What’s starting to happen in the UK is firms are starting to find it difficult to get work without BIM. The next phase will be a situation where you’ll be asked how many projects have you done in BIM and after that it will be how many projects in a selected sector e.g. healthcare that were completed including examples. I think a lot of what’s being done in the UK will ultimately become the standard here.”
Construction is the world’s most wasteful industry; it’s the largest consumer of global resources, raw materials and global energy supplies. It creates the largest amount of global solid waste and it’s responsible for around 50% of greenhouse gas emissions. The implementation of BIM will help to counter this; it will radically alter how the industry operates.
The future of architecture and the construction industry is digital; of this there can be no doubt and BIM is the future of design and long term facility management. BIM provides the potential for a virtual information model to be handed from the design team (architects, surveyors, consulting engineers, and others) to contractor and subcontractors and then to the owner, each adding their own additional discipline-specific knowledge and tracking of changes to the single model. The result greatly reduces information losses in transfer, makes buildings work and helps build better value constructions. By signalling conflict detection BIM prevents errors creeping in at the various stages of development/construction, because the model actually informs the team about parts of the design which are in conflict or clashing. BIM also offers detailed computer visualisation of each part and assembly in relation to the total building. Confusion around the technology is being alleviated by the likes of CITA, DIT, Enterprise Ireland and ArcDox and by firms like Arup, Scott Tallon Walker, BAM Contractors and others who are striving to utilise BIM across all of their projects, both at home and abroad. BIM is a new technology in an industry that’s typically slow to adopt change, but this change is happening and there’s no doubt that BIM will play a crucial future role in building design and documentation. Get the next issue of Irish Building Magazine for more BIM stories.
The BIM Handbook. A Guide to Building Information Modeling for Owners, Managers, Designers, Engineers and Contractors, 2nd Edition.ISBN: 978-0-470-54137-1 (July 2011)